Can a relationship with my boyfriend from a different social class work?
December 5, 2016 7:45 AM   Subscribe

My new boyfriend's family is well off, mine has money but live REALLY frugally to the point of frustration although I love them dearly. Lately he has been making comments that concern me & make me question how much of a future we can actually have...

When I first met my boyfriend I thought he was probably too posh for me - sometimes I feel like Bridget Jones dating Mark Darcy (except he's the clumsy one!).

We went to the same uni - I graduated with a good degree and he almost failed his, saying he doesn't consider himself to be 'academic' and in hindsight probably wouldn't have attended further education. He prefers working blue collar jobs while I am running a small business I set up last year. I am also a published writer whose career is advancing and he is really supportive of this. He is a big reader and we both enjoy very similar things. We vote the same way politicially.

He comes from a family of money and his family owns a large rural estate. Interestingly enough, about half of my family are from rural locations & as such I am due to inherit a rural area myself. But I grew up in an area that had formerly been a council estate - sandwiched somewhere between being an okay area and rough in some parts. I'm from a family where my parents grew up working class but are now financially middle class having both achieved very good degrees and careers.

Lately, my boyfriend occasionally makes disparaging comments about areas that are not dissimilar to where I grew up when we pass through them - not about the people but the houses themselves. This is obviously an issue because I dread taking him home, I don't want to date a snob and I won't be made to feel ashamed of my upbringing.

My uncle (a self-made millionaire), my mum's brother, went through this when we married a woman from a private school education and who was very posh indeed. She was snobbish about the house my uncle grew up in (similar to the house I grew up in) although her attitude has improved over the years. They have been together for forty years.

My parents split up when I was a very young child and my mum has never moved out of her small house even though I have basically no doubt that she is probably the richest woman in the area and could afford a much nicer house in a better area. She complains about how she 'always wanted a large kitchen', which she could easily afford, but she stays in the same house/situation regardless. Moreover, she constantly starts projects and leaves them unfinished (due to occasional depression & high functioning alcoholism I believe), leaving the house a bit of a state. She has done this all my life and as it was embarrassing I always avoided bringing people home as a result. I love her but the thought of having to grit my teeth & bring another guy home to it almost too much to bear. She has never had any awareness about how this affected me growing up.

Now for the good part: I am really content when I am with boyfriend. It feels 'right' when we are together - a type of stillness and contentment I have never experienced before. He tells me I'm intelligent, beautiful, kind, a great cook and that he is happy spending time with me no matter what we are doing. He says I am a rare find and although he hasn't yet said it I think he's in love with me. When he's not making these occasional snobbish remarks he is unfailingly kind and thoughtful, he cooks for me, went out of his way to look after me after an op lately and listens/shows a level of inquisitiveness far beyond what I have seen in most men. He also said he likes that I am from a different background although I am not entirely sure what he means...

What can I do when it finally comes to introducing him to my mother? And what am I going to say if he keeps making these remarks?
posted by Ariel432 to Human Relations (24 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I'm going to just break off a piece of this question:

And what am I going to say if he keeps making these remarks?

It bothers you, so you need to say "hey boyfriend, it bothers me when you say things like [comment], and here's why. I actually grew up in a similar area, and..."

How he reacts to your comments should tell you a lot about how this will go going forward.
posted by craven_morhead at 7:50 AM on December 5, 2016 [83 favorites]

What does he say when you ask him to stop making the remarks?
posted by AFABulous at 7:51 AM on December 5, 2016 [10 favorites]

What can I do when it finally comes to introducing him to my mother? And what am I going to say if he keeps making these remarks?

Look at him straight on and say "That house you're mocking is just like the house I grew up in and where my mother still lives." His response will tell you a lot about your compatibility.

I love her but the thought of having to grit my teeth & bring another guy home to it almost too much to bear.

Your mother is who she is and your childhood home was what it was. Accept it or don't; other people in your life will follow your lead. You can't expect a boyfriend to be more accepting of your roots than you are.
posted by headnsouth at 7:52 AM on December 5, 2016 [26 favorites]

I think a relationship between people of different socioeconomic classes can work, but if your guy is a snob and he doesn't see it as a problem and check himself, you're going to have trouble.

I think you should probably call him on his disparaging comments in the moment. Like, actually say, "I grew up in a house like that and my mom still lives there. You wouldn't say anything like that about her house, would you?"

(Although the way you talk about it makes it sound like you *are* a bit ashamed of your mom's house...)
posted by mskyle at 7:52 AM on December 5, 2016 [1 favorite]

Yeah, just tell him about your family and your home. Specifically. Like "oh this neighborhood is actually just like the one I grew up in." Hopefully he'll knock it off.

If he doesn't, then you'll have a different problem, but he probably will stop. Someone reflexively expressing some trivial, unpleasant point of view that they think you share isn't necessarily a big deal unless they won't stop when asked. And you have good cause to ask.

Re introducing him to your mom, he should always be nice to her in any case, for your sake. It's ok (and, I think, a good idea) for you to tell him your concerns about her though, before they meet -- don't make him wonder what's up. (I mean the drinking/mess more than anything. He shouldn't care about her house unless he wonders what it means for your possible life together.)
posted by fingersandtoes at 7:59 AM on December 5, 2016 [2 favorites]

"Hey, boyfriend, when you say x about y place, it really bothers me, because I grew up in a place a lot like y. And my mum, whom I love dearly, still lives there."

That's it. Unless your boyfriend is a gigantic asshole, he'll tone it down. I think sometimes when people say stuff like that they don't realize how it comes across.

As for introducing him to your mom, you can say something like "her place is always kind of a mess but she was a really good mom" but really I think you've got to just accept her for who she is and try not to be embarrassed by it. As mskyle says it sounds like you are really the one who is ashamed of your mom's house. You shouldn't be. You have no control over where and how she lives and you are allowed to love her even though she is may not be perfect, because no one is perfect.
posted by breakin' the law at 8:01 AM on December 5, 2016 [4 favorites]

If it's true his family is rich and he works low skill/ low pay jobs, then his attitude/snobbery could be a way of trying to prop up his own self image at the detriment of others, because his attitude is all that really separates him from any other working poor person (well that and probably a giant gold-lined safety net, but that's harder to drop into casual conversation).

Not a very nice trait for any age/ sex / class / income bracket IMO, but it's something I'd look in to and ponder on and ask him about if I wanted to understand why he does it.
posted by SaltySalticid at 8:09 AM on December 5, 2016 [12 favorites]

1. ask him to stop making those comments, explain how it is insulting because you grew up in areas just like that.

2. relationships with people from very different socioeconomic classes can work, but only if both people have similar goals and expectations for what their life will look like in terms of housing, spending, trips, etc. AND if both parties are respectful and sensitive to each other's differing contexts. If that aligns, then you're probably okay. I'd worry about that considering the comments he had been making...

Anecdotally, I was in this situation but reversed. I was the one who grew up from in a fairly affluent household where we never had to worry about money and was able to have some pretty incredible experiences. My boyfriend grew up I suspect pretty close to the poverty line, experienced a lot of hardship growing up because of it. I was embarrassed to "bring him home to meet the parents" because my parent's house is very large and beautiful, where his mother and brothers grew up in a trailer home (by his own description). There was no snobbery or disrespect of each other's financial contexts, but there ended up being a pretty tremendous disconnect on the sort of life we each hoped to have moving forward. He had no ambition, was dreadfully poor with money (made half what I did, had more debt, but spent more in rent than I did which absolutely blew my mind), and was pretty content being very underemployed. I ultimately broke up with him because the life I wanted and expected was very very far removed from the life he wanted and expected.

I am now married to a different man who comes from a lower socioeconomic class than what I come from, but we share values and goals and expectations so it all works out great. We're both ambitious, hard working people. I enjoy spending time with his family, and he enjoys spending time with mine. Its all fine and dandy.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 8:16 AM on December 5, 2016 [2 favorites]

Have you met his family yet?

Meeting them should be a very instructive experience. If they're terrible people and even worse snobs than him, you're entirely justified calling off the relationship because you can't stand putting up with that long term.

Keep in mind if you stay together and get married, it's very likely you'll plan a wedding. Can you imagine the stress right now of getting your parents to pay for a wedding ("bride's family pays!") that will not embarrass you in front of his parents? Of course, you can always pay for it yourself, but that's "not the done thing" among parents with money, IME. Can you imagine him making those snarky little comments about how the venue isn't nice enough and you need to rent nicer chairs and have filet mignon? Yeah. Keep picturing that. And picture your parents meeting his parents.
posted by stockpuppet at 8:29 AM on December 5, 2016

A small handful of people are true snobs. That I have found. But most people are 'situational snobs'. Same goes with racism, sexism, etc.

Your boyfriend, who must have redeeming qualities in other ways (otherwise you would not be in a relationship with him I hope!), might have misguided knee-jerk reactions or unexamined perceptions and stereotypes.

This is a Teachable Moment. Use this wisely. You do not have be outwardly confrontational, you do not have to be on the attack, unlike what some posters above have proposed. You can simply say, in a neutral/ kind voice, what your opinion is:

"You know, my family grew up in those situations too."
"My family was that poor once."
"Why do you think X trait about poor person Y?"
"Instead of laughing at poor person Z, you should feel sorry for them. Because they did not have A, B, C privilege that you had."

Sometimes, people act in a certain way to show off, or to overcompensate, or to fit in. Or maybe their peer group thinks this way (reading the certain newspapers, dominant opinion). This can be years of learned traits. But good news is, that most (MOST not ALL) people are generally fairly reasonable. Even a small dissenting voice can make them think: Hmm, perhaps my opinion is misguided. Or: "My girlfriend, whom I love and trust, has a different opinion than I do. I respect her, so I need to consider this more thoroughly. Perhaps I am wrong."
posted by moiraine at 9:00 AM on December 5, 2016 [9 favorites]

I see this a bit differently. You went into so much detail about the class differences that it makes me think the true issue may lie with your own self value, your perception of self and what others think of you.

His commentary may be thoughtless, may be about fear of being poor, may just be about asthetics. You do need to mention it if it bothers you and see how he handles it, yes. But in the meantime, also look at how the idea of 'class divide' has affected you in general.
posted by Vaike at 9:18 AM on December 5, 2016 [7 favorites]

I have been in this kind of situation (although not with a boyfriend, but with bosses, coworkers, and friends). Being matter-of-fact can go a long way.

Them: "Gosh, this is an unfriendly neighborhood!"
Me: "What do you mean?"
Them: "Well, with all these lube shops and strip malls!" (*This is probably a US-specific stereotype)
Me: "My mom lives in a neighborhood just like this one, her neighbors are very friendly."

It can be a real learning experience for some people that educated, professional people like me can come from what they grew up thinking were "diminished circumstances."

As for meeting your mom, it's completely understandable that you are stressed out about the state of her house when you bring guests over. It may be easier on your mom and on you if the first couple meetings happen at your place or at a restaurant or other public location.
posted by muddgirl at 9:46 AM on December 5, 2016 [6 favorites]

These are two different conversations! Well, three if you count the conversation you need to have with your mother!!

- Please don't make disparaging remarks about people less fortunate than you. I know you are very kind, and these remarks make you seem unkind.

- My family is very frugal and they are unique people. While I don't share in their lifestyle choices, I have concerns you might judge me based on how they are. This is surely down to my insecurities, but can we talk about this issue?

- Mom, I love you and I think it's time you get some help, maybe monthly, to help you fix up your home and finish some projects. You would be happier with the yard cleaned up and some repairs. What do you think?

If your mom's home embarrasses you that much, and there's no improvement, stop normalizing that situation for her. Stop visiting her at home. Continue offering to help get her a handy man to complete projects, a gardener for yard work, and maybe a service for monthly house cleaning. That's it.

Mostly, you have to learn to speak up and have conversations. This is on you. Use your words.
posted by jbenben at 9:56 AM on December 5, 2016 [3 favorites]

Honestly, this doesn't sound like a class issue (you guys are ultimately from the same class or close to it). It sounds like your boyfriend is being a jerk.

People who try to have it both ways hating on both the rich ("ugh I hate university I'm blue collar this is a waste of my time") and the poor ("haha lol stupid trash from the bad side of town"), and who constantly disparage people they perceive as different from them, suck to be around.

Why not tell all of this to your boyfriend? "That house you just made fun of? I grew up in a house just like that. Not only does it hurt to hear you say those things, but you come off like a snob I wouldn't want to introduce to my family. Because we all live in houses like that."

If he's the sort of person who wants to be close to you, and who gets that everyone is different and maybe it's not great to issue blanket denouncements of entire types of housing stock, he will apologize and not do that sort of thing going forward.

Or maybe he's just a jerk.
posted by Sara C. at 10:04 AM on December 5, 2016 [4 favorites]

It sounds like this relationship is bringing to the surface your own snobbery or shame; the way you describe the situation betrays a lot of anxiety or insecurity on your part. I think this relationship can work, but it will require you to manage this internal conflict a little better. Your ability to deal kindly but firmly with your boyfriend's attitude, as others have suggested above, will depend in part on your ability to deal with it on its own terms, rather than as a secret confirmation of your own fears or shames that you must battle with. We tend to deal badly with people who are echoing parts of ourselves (or our recent selves) that we now find shameful or foolish.
posted by praemunire at 10:05 AM on December 5, 2016 [4 favorites]

my husband comes from a very traditional, wealthy, landowning, but not super rich family. He never had to give a thought to money growing up and didn't until we had a child together. He was raised by a house keeper.
I grew up in a very bohemian and unkept household, money was chronically short. Everyone looked out for themselves. A visit by the bailiff was not unusual. Huge debts were the norm.

It took me two years at least to bring my now husband home to meet my parents, largely because of how they lived at the time. My mom is a hoarder. She has never kept a tidy house and it is always grimey to downright disgusting in the kitchen, bathroom, etc. Also, she suffers from depression and has some mental issues. As a child and teenager I rarely took friends home. my father (he died a few years ago) spent most of his time outside the home to avoid the state their house was in and later divorced her as he could not take it anymore.

So I can defintely relate to the anxienty of bringing someone home for the first time. And as it turned out it was a deasaster, the house was even worse than usual and I ended up cleaning so we could even cook, use the loo and bathe.

In hindsight, what I should have done, is told my then boyfriend, at least to a certain extent, how bad things were. As it were I had never given any hint out of deep shame. This was a mistake on my part, because he was so shocked and had barely time to digest what he saw. With advance warning, he might have handled it much better.

Also, it is easy to say you should not be ashamed of your mother. I cannot recall a time I was not ashamed for/of her. It has taken a long time, decades, and some therapy to come to place of being reconciled with who she is. But I still feel strong shame at times when her mental issues become visible infront of my husband, or in public etc.

Our very different background when it comes to money and property is not easy, even now after almost 20 years together. It is doable but what I learned is it is easier if you can overcome the shame somewhat and talk to him. And also to talk wbout his fears that I might become like my mother (eg. develop mental issues with age). It is a fear I have myself and we can only manage it if we talk. These days, my husband and my mother actually get on fine. We spend a large part of the summer with her in a part of the house that we fixed up for ourselves (we are not allowed to do anyting in the house except in this one small studio but that is fine). They get on better than I with her, but it took a while.
wishing you the best,
posted by 15L06 at 11:51 AM on December 5, 2016 [6 favorites]

I'm gonna go in a different direction than most people and say don't just ask him to stop. Actively question him. My wife's father is a surgeon; he owns multiple houses, loves sailing, and collects wine that costs more than I make in a year. I grew up with a single mother in a smallish ranch house in the middle of the Rust Belt. She makes a lot of comments like your boyfriend does. "Oh that neighborhood just looks sad" because the houses are single-storey, or "I'm sad our kids won't get to go to Europe every summer like I did". Telling her to stop won't help, but you can challenge her beliefs. "What's so sad about it? They look cozy and its in a good school district." "There a lot of great vacation spots in the US and Canada, too. I went to Colorado and Maine and Toronto and Chicago when I was a kid." This makes her question her assumptions. Big house =/= happy and small house =/= unhappy. Europe =/= only good vacation spot. Then she can start to process things through her worldview. She'll come around like "yeah, actually, I loved visiting Washington DC when I was a kid". You can't just tell someone to change their mind. You have to get them to change it themselves.
posted by kevinbelt at 12:17 PM on December 5, 2016 [7 favorites]

Your boyfriend might be talking just about architecture, not the people who live in those houses. I'm not sure that you need to take this personally. Yes, I think you should tell him about your childhood home and why his remarks hurt you, but deep in your heart, do you like that house? Or do you feel that it would be disloyal to not like those types of places?
Recently, on the Blue, there have been some posts bashing McMansions. But one person's"drab suburban tract house" is another person's "cool Atomic ranch".
posted by Ideefixe at 1:05 PM on December 5, 2016 [2 favorites]

This question seems weird to me. You go into a ton of detail about stuff that has nothing to do with the question, like how you guys each performed in school, and then you don't even tell us what your boyfriend says about these houses. Not to mention the fact that the question in the header is "Can a relationship with my boyfriend from a different social class work?" but the question below the fold is pretty different and about your mother's housekeeping. This suggests to me that the real issue is something different and not exactly the same as what you actually asked. It seems like maybe you're upset because you feel that your mother's failure to better her situation reflects poorly on her and on your family and you're afraid your boyfriend will judge you for it.

It seems like a quick warning like, "hey, just to warn you, Mom's house is a bit small and messy; she's kind of self-conscious about it, so please don't say anything about it in front of her, such as comments x y and z that you've said in the past about these other houses" would be totally adequate? But again, based simply on the facts of the situation as presented, it seems like you're worrying about this far more than the situation there something more going on?
posted by phoenixy at 2:00 PM on December 5, 2016 [13 favorites]

I was going to pop in to make roughly Ideefixe's point. I'm a bit of an architecture snob myself and when I was younger I wasn't always very tactful about it. But a) it's not at all money-related, rather all about proportions and angles and things; and b) it would never cross my mind to think less of a person just because they grew up in an ugly house.
posted by tangerine at 11:01 PM on December 5, 2016 [1 favorite]

Like other commenters, I think you are conflating multiple issues.

If your boyfriend is really paying his way in life working blue collar jobs, it's possible that his disparaging statements about the houses are more due to ignorance/infamiliarity than true snobbery. As said above, it could be about the architecture (some people hate row houses, Brutalist housing complexes are either adored or loathed, etc.). Maybe it's the state of the roads, or the lack of trees or something. But, I bet your BF, who grew up well off, then went to uni, and is now living (I assume) in a larger city, has maybe never seen suburban or even rural small town life to a major extent, and there's lots to disparage about houses anywhere.

Next time he says something, just bring up your childhood home. He might still be "right" (if he's, for example, lamenting how small the yards are), but if he's a good person he'll at least change the way he talks about that sort of thing with you.

Your mom and her home are a different matter, but not really trickier in any way if he's worthy of you. You should start telling him about your childhood home now, even if you don't have a trip to bring him over planned. That whole paragraph, about the state of the house when you were growing up and your mom's problems with housekeeping that affect you to this day are something that the man you love deserves to know about you. Even if he never meets your mom/sees your house. If he knows and trusts that that is not a way that you want to live your life, going forward, you've got nothing to be ashamed about with respect to how your mother chooses to live her life.

All but one of my Husband's maternal relations is a hoarder. Father, Mother, Aunt (the exception is her husband, his Uncle), Grandmother, Grandfather. I know that that has affected him in a number of ways, but I also know that that's not what he wants for the future (he was also the kid who was too embarrassed to have his friends over). And yeah, the fact is that his mother's house is still disgusting (well beyond what you describe), but that just means we invite her over or take her out to eat as opposed to visiting. Because she's his mom, and the state of her house* doesn't change their mutual love for each other or my respect for that.

And it should be the same way for your boyfriend: ok, she has a messy house, and her kitchen doesn't have a proper floor because she decided to rip it all out one day without a plan, and the whole neighborhood is pretty drab. But she's still OP's mom, and his cues for his relationship with her should be driven by your relationship with her, not her housing situation.

*there are other things that influence time spent with her, but that's for another Ask.
posted by sparklemotion at 11:05 AM on December 6, 2016 [1 favorite]

For what it's worth, I have Opinions about architecture, but I also wince to remember my scorn of ticky-tacky apartment complexes with popcorn ceilings, wall to wall carpet, and mirrored closet doors, now that I live in exactly that type of housing stock.

I'm not sure whether this means your boyfriend can be brought around on the matter, or whether it means that I think this goes beyond "just having opinions about architecture". But as someone who has caught myself in this kind of thinking before, I actually *do* think there's an element of snobbery to it, and it's perfectly fair to feel judged or like these blithely stated opinions might present a problem when it comes down to "meet the parents" type stuff in your relationship.
posted by Sara C. at 12:16 PM on December 6, 2016

I don't want to date a snob and I won't be made to feel ashamed of my upbringing.

Your problem is two-fold: what he thinks of the houses (or your status?) and what you think of your house/mom/status. For both of you, ask questions and get to the subconscious assumptions as suggested previously. You CAN'T be "made to feel ashamed"- you either already are or are not!!

I have been in a similar situation (it didn't last for other reasons) but the comments (exactly similar one about houses- and hence this post...), in retrospect, were a strong indicator of the importance of money for this person (although they've claimed otherwise, and contradicted themselves on occasion; a salary of a specific number and up equalled success) and what is right and wrong for them. We didn't share the same values. We didn't value the same things. I'd caution you to stay true to who you are and not walk on eggshells around this guy- you wont be able to walk together far.

Being true to who you are is liberating. Try it around him.
posted by xm at 3:21 AM on December 8, 2016 [1 favorite]

I think that you're doing a good job at communicating. Why is it on you, exactly, to explain why snobbery is wrong?

The point of this reassurance being, I just don't want you to get hurt by asking this question. There is nothing about asking that makes you insecure.

You should have to point out that his classism makes you uncomfortable once. ONCE. Actually, zero, but once is enough. Would people be reacting this way if the question was about abortion or racism? Or feminist beliefs?

Basically, this question boils down to, look, should I have to parent another adult?

Because, guaranteed, - this isn't just going to come up once.

The answer if you love this guy could be yes, it's worth overlooking his snobbery. But if you're young and successful and excited about life, I would suggest it really should be no. This will probably drag you down as a person.

I'm sorry - it's great that you've found THE BEST YET - but this is one of those life experiences. When you meet a person who works on every level, but has a streak of something that will make YOUR life not work. There is something you will have to sacrifice to him if he's not compassionate toward people from diverse backgrounds, maybe you just can't put your finger on it now.

Ok, I'll leave it at that. One more thought though. In some romance, (such as Bridget Jones, which I love), there is often an unspoken sexist or classist streak no? I love the shit out of my Recency romances, but a lot of them present rape as OK. Similarly, Jane Austen wasn't super into the welfare. She was an amazing writer, but politically conservative, no? Like I love Pride and Prej, but in real life, I think it's much rarer for one person to be the impetus for breaking down another's classist attitudes.
posted by benadryl at 9:58 AM on December 9, 2016

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